Young competitor has been gaining a wealth of confidence along with many medals

At first glance 11-year-old Paco Huang comes off as a shy and reserved boy, but get him to demonstrate wushu and you see just the opposite — a boy who is very strong, precise, and confident.

I certainly saw this when I met with Paco for a photo shoot for this article. When he walked into the studio he was hiding behind his father, Henry Huang, afraid to make any eye contact with the photographers or myself. He only spoke in one or two word sentences when engaged in conversation.

But something happened when Paco got in front of the camera.

Suddenly I saw a boy being able to display his bare-handed wushu routines with determination and poise. A joyful expression came upon his face when he was asked to demonstrate his poses.

So what is wushu? It’s a form of martial arts that was established in China in 1949, and at the competitive level consists of both combat and individual routines. Competitive wushu is composed of two disciplines: “taolu” meaning forms, and “sanda,” which is sparring against an opponent. Paco is currently only learning “taolu.” He won’t learn “sanda” until he is 13.

Wushu brings Paco out of his shell, and allows him to have an outlet to build not only his outer strength, but to consequently build his confidence.

Photo by Justin WilsonMany people may not be familiar with the term wushu, or the sport itself; however, it is actually the main fighting style utilized in many kung fu movies.

Paco says seeing these movies when he was younger actually inspired him to get into the sport.

“The DVDs I saw made it [wushu] look really cool,” Paco says. “Especially the Jet Li and Jackie Chan ones.”

Wushu builds confidence

With seven years of wushu training under his belt, and a total of 11 medals earned to date (six gold, four silver and one bronze), Paco now possesses a certain degree of self-assurance and composure that you might see from a veteran of the sport.

Paco’s father Henry says his son hasn’t always been this confident. He says he has seen a great deal of personal growth in his son since he took up the sport at the age of four.

“I think it is very good for Paco to do wushu because it builds his confidence,” Henry says. “Before he started wushu he was very shy, but now he feels more confidence in himself.”

Paco’s longtime trainer, Master Geng Zhang Cai of the Calgary Tai Chi and Martial Arts College, affirms the belief that confidence building is essential to achieve success in wushu.

“We are concentrated on building your inside,” Cai says. “We want to be able to build our athletes confidence so they can be able to move with speed, power and to channel their emotions to be one with the routines and weapons.”

Paco has not only demonstrated confidence and discipline in wushu, but also in school. These traits have funneled into his education at Colonel Irvine School as well. His physical education teacher, Kjersten Mein, believes that Paco’s wushu abilities have positively translated into his education.

“He brings the discipline he has in wushu to the classroom,” Mein says. “He always has a great attitude, always works hard in school, and gets good grades.”

Paco’s classmates at Colonel Irvine recognized his abilities by nominating him for a virtue award, recognizing confidence, back in February.

Paco’s future

Paco is currently in the C Group for the sport, which is for competitors ages 8 to12, and is looking forward to advancing into the B Group. Paco would eventually like to see himself at the optional level, which is for competitors 18 and above.

Paco is seen here with the dao, which is one of the traditional weapons of wushu. He performed this routine at the Calgary Tai Chi & Martial Arts College on March 8.

Photo by Tiffany Ritz“It is one of my goals to make it to the optional level and be a world champion,” Paco says.

He says he will continue as far as he can go with this form of martial arts and would like to qualify for the Olympics one day.

Wushu has not yet been registered as an official sport in any Summer Olympic Games up to this point. However, there was an independent wushu tournament that took place during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mein says some of the skills that Paco learns in wushu could help him qualify for the Olympics in other sports.

Cai says that Paco does have the potential to be a world champion and he will work towards helping him become a professional in this sport.

Paco has already achieved success in this year by earning three medals (one gold, one silver and one bronze medal) at the 2014 Junior National Wushu Championships in Hamilton this February.

Paco will aim for more medals at the West Coast Can-Am Championships on May 15, in Vancouver. This will be his fifth appearance at the tournament. He has picked up a gold medal in each of his previous four appearances.

Huang admits he has long way to go before he makes it to his ultimate goal in wushu, but he insists that he would like to keep doing training well into his college years.

tritz@cjournal.ca